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Important Tips for Dry-Docking Sick or Injured Turtles

Discussion in 'General Turtle Care Discussion' started by Craig, Oct 14, 2014.

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  1. Craig

    Craig Administrator
    Platinum Level Supporter

    Aug 8, 2001
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    We regularly get asked how to set up a turtle in dry-dock but it is very difficult to advise as every case is different. It depends on many variables such as the size of the turtle, location within Australia, ambient temperature, whether or not the turtle is on antibiotics, what is the medical condition being treated.

    I thought I would take this opportunity to explain some basic dry-docking principles that will assist anyone needing to set up a turtle in dry-dock. This is my opinion on the ideal dry-dock conditions.....some others with experience here may have other methods that work just as well.

    Ideal lengths of time for dry-docking are 4 -20 hours per day for smaller turtles. Larger, adult turtles can be dry-docked for up to 4-5 days but the temperatures and the turtle's hydration status should be monitored very closely.

    1. Diseases that require dry-dock include bacterial or fungal skin infections, stomatitis (also known as mouth rot or canker), shell rot, bite wounds, shell fractures, eye infections, Oedema, ear abscesses and in some cases respiratory infection and pneumonia.

    2. The hospital box should be escape proof and water proof i.e a plastic tub with a secure lid. I will do another thread in more detail later. If a lid is not going to be used, the tub depth needs to be a minimum of 1.5 times the turtle's straight carapace length (SCL) for short-necks and twice the SCL for long-necks.

    3. The hospital box should be placed in a room that is quiet and the temperature does not exceed 30°. Keep it secured away from small children and pets.

    4. If the turtle is receiving antibiotic therapy it must not be allowed to dehydrate or drop to a temperature below 26°.

    5. Extra warmth can be provided in the form of a heat mat and/or a heat lamp for larger hospital boxes. A Reptile One Fan Heater can be used for larger hospital boxes as the fan helps to distribute the heat and the light produces good levels of UVB. It MUST NOT be used if the height of the hospital box is less than 30cms. All additional heat sources should be used in conjunction with a good THERMOSTAT. This will ensure that the turtle will not overheat.

    6. A Thermofilm Basic Thermostat (THAT040) is a mechanical thermostat with a metal probe. It switches the power on and off (is not a dimming thermostat) which is able to be used with most heat sources. It is relatively inexpensive and very reliable.

    7. If the turtle has been hauling out because of skin disease or bullying then you have to assume that the turtle is dehydrated and you SHOULD NOT start dry-docking straight away! Set up your dry-dock with enough of the turtle's tank water to cover the shell and leave in this water WITH NO DOCK OR HAUL OUT AREA for at least 12 hours! If the turtle looks well hydrated you can start the dry-docking process. One way to test hydration is to gently pinch an area of skin on the neck or leg. If the skin stays in the same position when you release it, there is a good possibility that the turtle is dehydrated.

    8. The main problem with dry-docking is that turtles will become dehydrated. Dehydration is the number one killer of sick turtles! The best way to prevent dehydration is to monitor the turtles body weight! Once properly hydrated as per step 6, weigh your turtle with some good quality scales, accurate to 1 gram or less and preferably displaying in 0.1 of a gram increments (there are some really good scales for sale on this site that will weigh turtles up to 1 Kg!) If the turtle loses 10% of its original body weight during dry-dock, it is considered dehydrated! Make sure its body weight never drops below 9% of the original starting weight i.e. If the turtle's starting weight is 100grams, rehydrate once it drops to 91 grams. This is just a guide as you have to consider how much it is eating and pooping but it gives you an idea of how the weight changes with hydration status.

    9. Most ailments that require dry-docking will require at least 2 weeks of dry-dock. Reptiles are slow to get sick and slow to heal so some diseases will take 6-12 months to fully heal. Dry-docking is not required for the entire time, just as long as it takes the turtle to form a healthy scab or tissue layer over the wound.

    10. Ventilation is very important and can be provided either by using no lid, a metal mesh lid or by using a soldering iron to poke holes in the plastic to make vents in the lid and 2 ends of the tub. This should be done in a well ventilated area as the fumes are very unpleasant.

    11. Any water treatments to aid the healing process such as aquarium preparations containing Methylene Blue, Malachite Green, Acriflavine, Betadine, Iodine, F10 or Triple Sulphur are best used in the dry-dock and not in the turtles aquarium, particularly if you have other turtles in the tank. Always use the turtle's aquarium water but make sure that the water chemistry is within the recommended values or it may irritate the turtle's wounds.
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